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Heritage Months Offer A Timely Cure For Ignorance

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Heritage Months Offer A Timely Cure For Ignorance

Heritage Months Offer A Timely Cure For Ignorance

Heritage Months Offer A Timely Cure For Ignorance

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/124459347/124457311" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A man protests a recent racist party i

A man protests a recent racist party on the campus of University of California-San Diego, during a rally and march on the campus at UCLA in Los Angeles Thursday, March 4, 2010. Reed Saxon/AP Photo hide caption

toggle caption Reed Saxon/AP Photo
A man protests a recent racist party

A man protests a recent racist party on the campus of University of California-San Diego, during a rally and march on the campus at UCLA in Los Angeles Thursday, March 4, 2010.

Reed Saxon/AP Photo

A few words about Women's History Month.

It started as International Women's Day, which is today. We'll be observing it with conversations that showcase interesting and, hopefully, unexpected takes on the role women have played in the life of this country — just as we did with Black History Month, which just ended, and as we plan to do with Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, which comes in May, and Hispanic Heritage and Native American Heritage Months, which come later in the year.

Now, some people wonder why we have these so-called heritage months, and some take it even further to get all retro-racist about it.

Black History Month seems to spark an especially egregious outpouring of stupidity — cotton balls were sprinkled outside an academic building at one Midwestern campus last month.

And, of course, you heard about the Compton Cookout on this program, which was an off-campus party held by a fraternity associated with the University of California, San Diego, where the white revelers were encouraged to act out as many racist stereotypes as they could fit in, in the course of getting their drink on.

OK, we get the point.

You don't like black folks or assertive women, or whomever. You think they are getting too big for their britches or are, as one student at UC-San Diego put it, ungrateful.

(And he added the "n" word for extra spice.)

Can I just tell you? It's the opposite. It is the speaker of those words who is ungrateful and ignorant. Too many people who, no doubt, think of themselves as well-informed are somehow unaware of, or indifferent to, the contributions of women and people of color to the progress and development of this country, which is why these heritage months exist to begin with.

But even more egregious, it seems as though too many people are willfully unaware, intentionally ignorant or just refuse to acknowledge the truth.

I am reminded of this just about every time we post our blog or open the mail. One of the reasons I am glad we have a blog is that the rest of the world can now be made aware of the kinds of things reporters, especially reporters of color, have known all along, which is just how many people out there cannot wrap their heads around the idea that people other than propertied white men have contributed anything significant to this country.

The Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts wrote a column about an exchange he had with a reader who denied that a Medal of Honor winner who was black had deserved it.

"Couldn't have happened," this reader insisted, because blacks weren't officially assigned to combat positions until years later.

Which is precisely the point. Just as women serving in the military are in harm's way now, even if they aren't assigned to such roles (which makes uncommon bravery that much more noteworthy). But this reader didn't want to hear all that. He just preferred to act as if the events never happened.

There are all manner of historical deniers out there, of course. Now, most people don't spend too much time on them or prefer to assign them to the lunatic fringe. And the people who spend a lot of time challenging those views, well, don't we look a little askance at them, too? Don't we kind of smirk and say ...

... well, nobody believes that nonsense.

... that women shouldn't lead.

... that blacks aren't smart.

... that Latinos and Asians and Native people are just whatever.

But evidently, some people do believe those things.

New research shows that parents who refuse to talk about race are really making it taboo. I am not naive enough to believe that if you present everybody with the same information they'll come to the same conclusions. That is not the point.

But those of us who believe that reality should have some meaning have to speak up. If we don't provide the information, we cannot reasonably argue that people should know it.

And if the truth doesn't set you free, well, I don't know what will.

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